How to Make Eating Out Healthy: 7 Easy Rules to Follow

The best way to eat healthy meals is by making your own. But what if you’re traveling, on vacation, at a work dinner or having a nice dinner out with friends or family?

There’s nothing wrong with eating out occasionally, but it can make eating more challenging. These simple guidelines can help you avoid the carb slump, beat the sodium bloat and make eating out healthy.

1. Stick with Simple

Grilled chicken and vegetables, a steamed vegetable platter, or a house salad with grilled salmon are all examples of simple dishes many restaurants offer.

Look for offerings with basic ingredients free of creams, cheesy sauces, or other additions that can be full of sugars, oils and junky things like preservatives. You’ll get more nutrition per calorie and not feel so heavy afterwards.

2. Avoid Fried or Breaded Foods

Fried or breaded options have been rolled in refined flour, submerged in unhealthy oils and seasoned with a lot of salt. On top of that, they often include high-calorie sauces or dressings.

Best to avoid breaded or fried altogether. Instead, look for terms like baked, broiled, steamed, sautéed or grilled instead. Fish is often a good alternative for this.

3. Ask for a Side of Veggies

Most places offer the option to sub a side salad or steamed veggies for fries or chips. Even if they don’t, most will let you swap if you ask. You can also ask for double the veggies.

Some more veggie tips:

  • If the salad dressing is creamy, ask for it on the side or for oil and vinegar instead.
  • Avoid salads that include crispy meats, deli-style meats, croutons or bacon—all super-processed ingredients.
  • Have a side salad before the rest of your meal. Research shows you eat less after—and you’ll get more vegetables.

Most of us don’t get enough daily vegetables, so use this as an easy way to load up!

4. Look for a “Light” Section

A lot of popular chain restaurants offer a “healthy” or “light” section of their menu that displays calories and other nutrition facts on the dishes. This can be helpful for choosing something lighter and more nutritious.

5. Eat Healthy Leading Up to the Meal

Sitting down to a meal really hungry can make anyone want the most decadent option.

Choose wholesome, balanced meals and snacks through the rest of the day so you don’t get overly hungry by mealtime.

If you’re on the road, pack healthy snacks to have around meal times. You’ll feel better and be more excited to make healthy choices.

6. Order Water as Your Drink

Instead of soda or an alcoholic drink, order water or an herbal tea. You’ll stay hydrated, save money (and calories), and it’ll be easier to tune into your body’s fullness signals to avoid eating past comfort.

7. Savor Your Meal

Even if you choose a less-than-healthy option, let yourself enjoy the meal. Eat slowly and mindfully. Pay attention to the tastes, textures and aromas of the meal. Notice when you start to feel full.

Here are a few other tips for making eating out healthy:

  • Restaurant portions are notoriously much larger than a true serving size. Maybe ask for a to-go box and add half of the meal to it, then focus on savoring what’s left. Chances are, you won’t miss it.
  • Look up the menu online beforehand so you know what your options will be.
  • Try to choose restaurants that are known for having healthy options. This will make your decisions easier.
  • If there are no easily customizable meals, you can also create a simple meal using a few healthy side dishes or appetizers.
The Bottom Line

Remember, even when eating out healthy, fast food and restaurant meals will always be higher in calories, sugars, sodium and processed foods than eating at home.

Try to increase how often you cook your own meals and make eating out a special time to savor. And since none of us are perfect nutritionally, consider taking a high-quality multivitamin to fill in any gaps.

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